Penge boundary #6: A Tale of Two Commons

The south-west corner of the ancient hamlet of Penge is now represented by the junction of Marlow Road and Cambridge Road. Above and behind Cambridge Road is a railway embankment, carrying the line between Birkbeck and Crystal Palace. But the railway line is a recent arrival – that is to say, it’s only been around since 1858. What was here in the centuries before that?

All the land on the Penge side of the boundary, northwards for a mile and a half to the Vicar’s Oak, and eastwards right over to the cluster of houses around the Crooked Billet, was Penge Common – the large tract of rough heath and woodland which occupied most of the hamlet. The various attempts to ‘enclose’ (i.e. privatise) Penge Common which were made from the 1780s onwards are covered in detail in my book. They led to Parliamentary manoeuvring, legal action, physical confrontation and fence-breaking. Eventually, in the 1820s, enclosure was pushed through by the local landowner John Barwell Cator. The Common was carved up, with some bits allocated to local land-owners, and the rest sold at auction.

On the other side of the boundary was Croydon Common – but unlike Penge Common, there seem to be different views about its precise location.

John Rocque’s 1768 map of Surrey shows Croydon Common as a relatively small area around Selhurst and West Croydon, including the Whitehorse Road / Windmill Road / Northcote Road junction, and the land where Selhurst Station and the Selhurst train depot now stand.

Rocque 1768 Surrey

The same area is marked as ‘Croydon Common’ on John Cary’s 1786 map; and also apparently served as the parish of Croydon Common, created in the 1820s and served by St. James’ church.

On the other hand, our trusty document of 1604 implies that the “waste or common of Croydon” extended much further east, to meet the boundary with Penge. And this is consistent with John Rocque’s map of 1746, and with the 1800 Croydon Enclosure map, which shows allocations of land right up against the boundary.

Perhaps the explanation for these discrepancies lies in something as mundane as local custom. Even if common land as legally defined ran right up to the Penge boundary, locals may still have used ‘Croydon Common’ as a place-name for the smaller area around Selhurst and West Croydon.

But to return to the Penge boundary: having run just north of Marlow Road, it makes a sharp right-angle turn to the north-west, between Cambridge Road (in Croydon) and Wheathill Road (in Penge). It crosses Croydon Road to the east of Selby Road, then crosses Selby Road after a few yards to meet the Birkbeck-Crystal Palace railway line at the point where it crosses the Anerley-Norwood Junction line. From here it follows the railway line towards Crystal Palace, just to its east, as it skirts around the green expanse behind James Dixon School. Then, roughly at the point where the line squeezes between William Booth Road to the east and Windall Close to the west, the boundary leaves it. It veers across the railway, and runs north-west between Belvedere Road and Mowbray Road towards the bottom of Fox Hill.

Cambridge to Fox

Which provides a convenient place to break off for now.

Coming soon: the seventh and final stage in the circumnavigation of Penge, featuring an impressionist painter, a purloined post, and a Vicar’s Oak.



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